Frustrated, fed-up Hinds says: Crime-fighting being thwarted

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

MY POINT IS: National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds makes a point during his press conference in Port of Spain on Tuesday. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE – Angelo Marcelle

NATIONAL Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds cut a frustrated, angry figure during a press conference on Tuesday, complaining to journalists that his ministry and the government’s fight against crime continues to be thwarted due to a wide a varied number of reasons.

His spoke at his office on Abercromby Street in Port of Spain, a day after a quadruple murder incident which began near a school in Gonzales – where one man was shot dead – and ended at the Port of Spain General Hospital where three men who were initially wounded in the Gonzales incident, were gunned down by the same Gonzales gunmen.

Hinds said he wanted to account to the nation on the many obstacles the government was facing in dealing with crime.

Among the obstacles was the use of challenges against the Constitution which often hindered the crime-fighting progress. He then cited cases where legal loopholes and delay tactics were used not only to thwart the state’s efforts to fight crime, but to made such efforts more difficult to carry out.

He said fighting crime requires sustained efforts from all sectors of society and is not a quick fix. “It’s not a light switch,” Hinds declared.

He said lawyers were using certain sections of the Constitution, such as sections 4 and 5 – which deals with enshrined rights such as liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of the press, freedom of activity, and freedom of worship – to thwart the state’s crime-fighting efforts.

Hinds said Section 5 dealt with matters pertaining to bail, the right to be heard, and the right to having an attorney.

He said Section 13 allows for laws that may be inconsistent with Sections 4and 5, provided they are reasonably justifiable in a society that respects individual rights and freedoms.

Hinds stressed that Section 13 gave rise to numerous legal challenges. As an example, he said that recently, on the advice of Cabinet, he used the Police Service Act to extend the tenure of the Commissioner of Police by one year. When this was done, a “prominent lawyer” challenged this extension, claiming it was inconsistent with Section 13. The courts later ruled in the state’s favour.

Hinds said delay tactics were seen when legal challenges move all the way from the local courts right up to the Privy Council in England.


“Despite good intentions and laws, criminals seem to have an advantage over the criminal justice system. They display no fear or respect for the law, creating an impression of lawlessness in society,” Hinds declared.

He questioned what might have occurred had Sunday’s shooting happened during school hours or in another part of the PoSGH which had a higher presence of patients and hospital staff.

“They continued their action at a public institution (hospital) which is supposed to be a safe haven, a place for healing, a place for peace and comfort, where members of society, nurses, doctors, attendants, staff, and visitors are dealing with issues.”

Hinds described the weapons used in recent shootings as illegal automatic, military-grade types.

“At the Gonzales shooting, ammunition such as 5.56 and 7.62, typically used by the Defence Force, was found.”

An irate Hinds said he felt a “little relief” knowing the shooting occurred on the outer southern ramp of the PoSGH and not at the internal compound or any wards.

He called the killers “ruthless and uncaring criminals” and described the attack as “nasty,” showing a total lack of care and respect for everything that exists in society.

Hinds said that on Sunday night at the hospital, a person asked him “quite emotionally” what the police were doing about crime. “What can we do?”

He acknowledged that Sunday’s incident was not the first time an attack had taken place at a hospital, specifically PoSGH, and said other shootings have also taken place at police stations and even at the Prime Minister’s residence.

“These crimes are carried out by opportunists, exploding in violence from time to time. It can happen anywhere.” He described TT as an extremely violent society, with criminals using assault weapons which originated from the United States where most were purchased legally and shipped to TT.

“To get through our legal ports, they disguised them in refrigerators, washing machines, and all kinds of other ways. They break them down, and some parts came in separately, making it extremely difficult, though not impossible, for detection.”

Hinds said in the past 18 months, his ministry has stepped up efforts at the airport and transit sheds run by the Customs and Excise Division, resulting in a curtailed activity as part of border tightening efforts.

“Alongside government’s policy of firearm retrieval, the TTPS is mandated to seek out and confiscate these weapons, returning them to places of safety and lawful hands.”

He said criminals are not short on ammunition, with police sometimes finding as many as 94 shells at one crime scene.


The minister then pointed out that government had been working closing with international partners in Caricom and in the US to reduce the importation of assault weapons into the Caribbean and TT.

He said the US had “come to understand the consequences of their lawful gun trade when it crosses into our borders.” Discussions on this issue took place between the prime minister, regional leaders and US President Joe Biden at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

“The US government is now taking action to assist us, including imposing a ban on firearms that will be lifted on July 1, with new guidelines requiring legal firearms importers in TT to produce end-user certificates.”

He said the new measures will “favour” the Defence Force, the TTPS and other state agencies that require legal firearms. The new measures by the US will also reduce the importation of guns into the region by about 33–35 percent.

“During my recent trip to the US, I discussed the diversion of guns and ammunition with counterparts from the region. Diversion involves legally held stockpiles of arms and ammunition being diverted to illegal hands. There is no shortage of ammunition. In a short period, we imported millions of rounds of ammunition.” He said the issue of diversion in TT was real.

Hinds referenced a report by the Commissioner of Police in a case involving local firearms dealer Towfeek Ali, who Hinds said, was unable to provide records to the police, during an audit of Ali’s company, since they had been stolen. Hinds said Ali had not reported the theft of the records to the police.

Hinds called gangs a major part of the country’s problem and described the issue as complex, saying it can involve anyone.

He spoke about a young man employed by his ministry, known for having a good work reputation, who got caught up in criminal activity and referenced a police officer who found himself being locked up in Venezuela.


The Laventille West MP said that crime penetrated many sectors of TT society and included in its grip members of the media, politicians, past government cabinets, businessmen, and parliament members.

Saying the government has and continues to make major investments in youths, he spoke of the provision of free education from early childhood to secondary levels, including technical and vocational training opportunities at institutions like MIC and UTT, and discussed the Ministry of Youth Development’s programmes, including a recent initiative to train 50 young people in heavy equipment operation.

He strongly refuted claims that there were no opportunities for young people who then turn to a life of crime, calling such assertions “absolutely untrue” and “rubbish.”

Hinds said the government not only provides educational opportunities but also passes laws to combat crime, aiming to obliterate gangs and divert young people to positive pathways.

“For those unwilling to change, the goal is to incarcerate them to protect law-abiding citizens.”

He described the opposition’s lack of support as a challenge in Parliament and quoted Minister of Housing Camille Robinson-Regis, who said there is a symbiotic relationship between crime and some decision-makers. Hinds added that this relationship sometimes feels more “Siamese.”

When drafting laws to protect citizens from criminals, Hinds said the government also considers the opposition’s likely objections, as they often oppose such legislation.

“We draft laws with the criminals and the opposition in mind, knowing they are likely to object.”

Hinds said the prison, probation service, public defender, courts, and office of the Director of Public Prosecution all make up the criminal justice system, and he believes these systems are not operating as efficiently, smoothly, or swiftly as they should.

He said the “slowness” of the system benefits criminals, as prolonged cases lead to witness death, loss of enthusiasm, susceptibility to threats and even withdrawal of testimony.